Recreational Vehicles (RV) gives you the freedom of traveling as far as you want without pausing to recharge. When you are tired of the deafening noise of clustered cities, you can drive to a lonely park, a mountainside, or a forest and live like you were still in your home. Thanks to the solar panel system setup that allows you to access power even while on the move. In other words, anywhere becomes your home.
This post is part of RV Solar series
However, finding the best RV solar panels and installing them on your vehicles will help you to charge your battery faster and extend the length of time you can stay off-grid. Arguably the most unique feature of solar panels is their ability to provide quiet and clean energy. Given that there are different types of panels with varying dimensions, picking the best RV solar panel can easily turn into a tedious task. Well, we are here to answer all your questions about solar panels for RV and make your next road trip the best of your life.
A travel trailer with rigid and flexible panels (Photo credit: Liter of Light USA)
Types of Solar Panels
Solar panels are made of one of three types of solar gathering cells which places them under three different categories namely; monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous solar panels. Each of these cell types has its pros and cons. The type of cell often determines the size of the panel. The reason is that some cell types are more efficient such that a smaller panel size can generate higher power. Below are the types of RV solar panel cells and their strong and weak points.
1. Monocrystalline solar panels
These solar panels are made from cells cut from single crystalline silicon. The cells are purer which makes them more efficient than polycrystalline cells. This is the oldest most dependable means of producing electricity from the sun.
- More efficient than other solar panel cells
- Environmentally friendly
- Highly durable
- More complex to produce
- Usually more expensive
2. Polycrystalline solar panels
By pouring molten silicon into a cast, polycrystalline solar panels are formed. They usually have a blueish appearance. Because the crystals are not as pure as the monocrystalline cells, they struggle with electricity generation in low light.
- Cheaper than monocrystalline panels
- Easier to produce
- Less efficient, particularly in low light
3. Amorphous solar panels
The production process of amorphous solar panels is strikingly different from the rest. To make this type of panels, the manufacturers vaporize silicon and allow them to settle on a thin layer of glass or metal.
- Best for cloudy weather
- High-heat resistance
- Degrade faster than the other two
- Low energy efficiency
- Takes up more space
How to choose RV solar panel
When it comes to choosing an RV solar panel, you have a wide range of options. However, your choice will likely depend on the size and space you have in your RV. Travel trailers usually have more space to accommodate bigger solar panels. However, if you are using a smaller RV, you need to be creative with your choice.
Choosing between rigid vs flexible RV solar panels
Rigid solar panels are mounted under tempered glass and have an aluminum frame. The dimension of an RV solar panel kit is usually 58.7 x 26.8 x 1.4 inches. They are more weather resistant, easier to clean, and highly durable. However, they are more expensive. Also, mounting them on an RV is more difficult.
Flexible solar panels, on the other hand, are molded with protective plastic top coating. The lack of frames allows them to maintain their lightweight and bend easily. Due to their flexible nature, they are less likely to crack on impact. However, the softer plastic coating can easily get scratched. Flexible solar panels usually have a dimension of 48 x 21.6 x 0.08 inches—depending on the manufacturer.
Which is better between Portable vs fixed RV solar panels
Choosing between portable and fixed RV solar panels is a matter of space and convenience. If you don’t mind driving around town with solar panels mounted on the roof of your RV, a fixed solar panel should be a great choice. They can be mounted on tilt mounts. This allows you to adjust the angle of the panels to get the most sunlight. Fixed solar panels are more suitable for people that are power hungry and they don’t take up interior space. However, mounting them means losing your roof layout. For example, if your RV has a moon roof, you will have to forfeit that feature. Also, you have to be picky with your parking spot to get sunlight.
Portable solar panels, on the other hand, are often designed into foldable briefcases that you can store in your vehicle. They are cheaper and easier to use and will not lower the aesthetics of your RV. However, they tend to take up valuable space inside the vehicle.
How many solar panels do you need for your RV?
The number of solar panels you will need for your RV will depend on the size of your battery. For example, if you are using a 12V battery in a 20 amps setup, multiplying the volts by the amps will tell you the size of the panel you need. In this case, 12 volts x 20 amps = 240 watts. Therefore, you will need a 240 watts panel to effectively charge your battery. However, considering the fact that solar panels are not 100% effective, it is recommended that you use a 300-watt panel or 3x 100 watts panels.
What is the optimum energy consumption of an RV?
It is important to mention that an RV can run on both AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). An RV makes use of a 12V battery. RV solar systems are equipped with a 120V system using a 30 amp or 50 amp power cord. With the 50 amp setup, you will be able to draw 12,000 (120v x 100 amps) watts from the battery. However, the 30 amp setup can draw a maximum of 3,600 (120v x 30 amps) watts.
If an appliance is rated 50 watt-hour, it means that it draws 50 watts from your battery every hour. Understanding this will help you to determine the power consumption of your RV. The last thing that you’ll ever want is running out of power when you are off-grid. Here is a useful guide that shows the power consumption of different RV appliances.
Appliances that heat or cool draw huge power from your battery. This includes microwaves, space heaters, air conditioning units, and so on. So, even with a large solar setup, you will not be able to run these appliances regularly. Switching to LED bulbs and installing energy-saving appliances can help you to cut down power consumption on your RV. A solar calculator can help you to determine the right size of the solar system you should have to power your RV. Having more panels usually helps to charge your battery faster.
Review of the Best RV Solar Panels
Since there are different solar panels, some fit better into certain roles more than others. We will not only tell you the best RV solar panels to buy but will also split them into their best roles to make it easier for you to make a choice. Without further chinwags, let’s have a look at the best RV solar panels.
Renogy 100W Extremely Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel – Best flexible solar panel for campers
This 100W 12V monocrystalline solar panel is extremely flexible which makes it easier for campers to carry it wherever they go. It is ultra-lightweight, ultra-thin, and can fit on the roof of RVs or boats. Interestingly, it can flex 248 degrees. The nature of this Renogy solar panel makes it easier to mount in areas where standard panels cannot fit. Also, this panel is built tough so that it can withstand wind of up to 2400 pa and a snow load of up to 54 pa.
It features a junction box with an IP68 waterproof rating. Also, the absence of a frame eliminates the risk of water collecting at the joints and eventually seeping into the panel and destroying the cells. The mounting of this flexible solar panel is also easier than the rigid ones. All you need is to apply silicone structural adhesive on the backside of the panel and place it on the desired surface. For non-mobile applications, you can make use of grommets.
Notwithstanding the flexibility and high waterproofing standard of this Renogy 100W flexible monocrystalline solar panel, it still has its flaws. The first drawback is the huge price tag. Secondly, the thin nature makes it hard to hold it to a surface. Therefore, attaching it to your RV can be tricky. Some reviewers reported seeing their panel fly off their roof. Nevertheless, when it works, it gives you maximum charge.
- Ultrathin and highly flexible
- Suitable for rough and smooth surfaces
- Boasts of IP68 waterproof rating
- Easy mounting using silicone structural adhesive or grommets
- Easily blown off when grommet-mounted
- Poor customer support
ACOPOWER UV Foldable Solar Panel Kit – Best portable solar suitcase
Have you ever wished that you could fold your solar panel and tuck it in your trunk? Well, with ACOPOWER 100W foldable solar panel kit, you can. It comes as 2 pieces of foldable 50W high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panels with a 10A charge controller. They fold into a protective case which you can take anywhere. It can work both as a battery-ready kit or a generator-ready kit. What this means is that you can connect it directly to a battery and start harnessing and saving the sun’s energy.
You can chain it with another solar panel (40W max) using MC-4 connectors to charge your battery faster. One cool feature that comes with this is the pre-installed stands. All you need to do is open it up and face it towards the sun with the help of the stand to start harvesting the sun’s energy. There is no need for mounting. It weighs 33 pounds which is a little heavy but light for your RV.
The pre-installed 10 amp solar controller prevents the system from overcharge, overheating, over-discharge, and overload. The panels are protected by a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame which makes it suitable for outdoor use. On the downside, this panel is a bit pricey and often arrives with detached wires. However, the good far outweighs the bad.
- Well-built protective, storage case for easy carrying
- High battery charging efficiency
- Ready to use for battery or generator
- Mounting not required
- Possibility of chaining with another solar panel
- More expensive than competitors
- Often comes with the charge controller cable detached
- No mention of warranty
Renogy 400 Watt 12V Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit – Best Solar Panel Kit
A solar panel kit comes with everything you need to set up your RV or travel trailer for an off-grid experience. One of the best you will find is the Renogy Monocrystalline 400 watt solar starter kit. The cells of this solar panel have a combined efficiency of 2000Wh. This means you can fully charge a battery from 50% to 100% in 3 hours—depending on the intensity of sunlight.
When you opt for this kit, you will also get the Renogy Wanderer 30A PWM charge controller. This allows you to expand your system up to 400W. The charge controller protects the system from overloading, short-circuit, and overcharging or over-discharging. Also included in the kit is an 8ft 10AWG tray cable for connecting your charge controller and battery.
This kit comes with mounting Z-brackets and all you need to mount it on your RV. Compared to competing brands, the Renogy Monocrystalline 400 watt solar starter kit has a good price. However, it has its flaws too. According to most of the reviews, the charge controller seems to be defective and goes bad easily. Also, Renogy’s tech support is usually not very helpful. Hopefully, you won’t be needing them at all.
- Comes with all you need for your RV
- Fast charging
- Charge controller has inbuilt system security
- Fair pricing
- Durability of the charge controller is questionable
- Tech support is not efficient
ECO-WORTHY Monocrystalline Portable Foldable Solar Panel – Best solar panel for travel trailers
Solar panels are usually installed on the roof of travel trailers. However, there is a limit to the number of panels that can go at the top. When you need more power but have run out of space on top of your RV, you can hook up Eco-worthy monocrystalline portable foldable solar panels to expand your battery charging capacity. The good thing about this 120W panel is that you can fold them and put them in your RV.
It has a pre-installed charge controller and pre-wired battery clips for charging a 12V battery. Behind the panel, you will find an aluminum stand for positioning the panels towards the sun. The pre-installed controller behind one of the panels protects the entire system from overcharging or over-discharging, overload, and reverse connection. You can use it directly to power any 12V DC device—if you have the right cables.
Some of the negative reviews on this product link back to the charge controller. It doesn’t display the amount of energy produced by the panel. Also, although the panels are portable, they don’t come with a carrying case. So, you need to come up with the best way to carry them to avoid damage. A good consolation is that the solar panel is cheaper than most competing brands and has a higher wattage. Regardless, Eco-Worthy needs to work on its tech support.
- Doesn’t require installation
- Great price
- Higher wattage (120 watts) compared to major competitors
- Portability makes carrying easier
- Poor tech support
- Charge controller doesn’t display what the panel is producing
Jackery SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel – Best solar panel for campers
Campers already carry lots of loads and will not want anything that weighs them down. At just 3.3 pounds, the Jackery SolarSaga 60W solar panel will not add to a camper’s load. This solar panel has a high conversion efficiency of up to 23%. Thus, you can use it to charge your solar generator. It is portable and foldable with a kickstand for positioning it to get direct sunlight.
Unlike most portable solar panels, this one has 1x USB-C and 1x USB-A ports where you can plug in your smartphones, cameras, and more to charge directly from the panel. This is a handy tool for campers. Also, it can fully charge the Explorer 240 within 6.5 hours. It has ETFE material on the surface which enhances its durability. Like every other solar panel, this one has many safety features including short current protection, surge protection, and overcharging protection.
There are several factors you need to pay attention to if you are considering this product for your RV. Firstly, the price is a bit on the high side. Also, it is not waterproof. So, you need to be careful and not allow spills on it. Lastly, don’t expect to get up to 60W as rated. If you can handle all these precautions, you have one of the best panels on the market.
- Foldable, lightweight, and has a carrying handle
- High conversion efficiency of up to 23%
- Comes with 2x USB ports for directly charging your devices
- Surface ETFE material coating enhance durability
- Comes with overcharging safety features
- Pricier than competing brands
- Product is not waterproof
Renogy Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit – Best RV Solar Panel Kit under $200
If you are among those that believe that you have to spend over $500 to set up a solar system for your RV, you need to think again. With roughly $160 you can get this Renogy Monocrystalline solar starter kit mounted on your RV. This package includes a 100W solar panel, 30A PWM negative ground charge controller, solar panel connectors, 8ft 10AWG tray cable, and mounting Z brackets for your RV.
The monocrystalline solar cell has an efficiency of 21% which is one of the highest you can get at the moment. Interestingly the included Renogy wandered charge controller allows you to expand your system up to 400W. The solar panel is so effective that you can charge a 50Ah battery from 50% to 100% in 3 hours. Another interesting feature to mention is the corrosion-resistant aluminum frame. This improves the durability and gives you maximum value for money.
There have been multiple complaints about the efficiency of the Renogy wandered charge controller. Its durability is highly questionable. You should consider getting another charge controller to pair with your kit. Renogy seems to be struggling with customer support too. This is telling off in bad reviews. Besides the charge controller, every other component is superb.
- Comes with all you need to set up your RV solar station
- High efficiency monocrystalline solar panel
- Panels have corrosion-resistant aluminum frame
- Renogy Wanderer charge controller is unreliable
- Poor customer service
Renogy 400 Watts Off-Grid Kit – Best solar panels for Travel trailers
A travel trailer requires lots of energy to run the appliances that come with them including the air conditioner and refrigerator. One solar panel kit with just the right fitting to support your off-grid travel trailer experience is the Renogy 400W 12V monocrystalline kit. This kit comes with 4x solar panels, 30A PWM LCD charge controller, mounting brackets, male and female connectors, solar cables, and cable entry housing.
The entire setup is designed for an off-grid solar system for RV, boat, greenhouse solar panel system, and so on. The highly efficient solar panels can deliver as much as 2000Wh per day—depending on sunlight intensity. The frames of the panels are made of corrosion-resistant aluminum for extended outdoor use. One of the innovative inclusion in this kit is the bypass diode which minimizes power drop and ensures excellent performance in a low-light environment.
The Adventurer 30A PWM charge controller is specifically designed for RV. It allows for aesthetically appealing flush mounting on the walls and has negative grounding for battery compatibility. Like most Renogy kits, the Adventurer charge controller is also unreliable. Also, a lot of users say the package was delivered with some missing parts. If these are not deal-breakers for you, then, you have one of the best solar panels for the roof of your travel trailer.
- Generates up to 400W of energy
- Corrosion-resistant aluminum frames for durability
- Excellent performance in a low-light environment
- Moderate pricing
- Renogy charge controller is unreliable
- Poor customer support
ACOPOWER 400 Watts Polycrystalline Panel – Best solar panels for RV battery charging
RV batteries are huge and take a lot of energy to charge. Acopower RV solar kit comes with 4x 100W polycrystalline panels, 40A MPPT LCD charge controller, mounting brackets, Y connectors, solar cables, and cable entry. It comes with all you need to start charging your RV battery. It has a conversion efficiency of 98% which can go as high as 99.5% at peak.
Probably the most innovative feature of this solar system is the charge controller which has user-adjustable settings. You can easily monitor and operate the system using the multi-function LCD system. It is programmable for different battery types namely lithium, gel, AGM, and lead-acid batteries. Connect the solar panels in parallel for 12V battery and series for 24V battery charging.
Acopower is offering a 25-year transferable power output warranty on the panels and a 1-year warranty on the rest of the kit. That is probably the best you can get in the industry at the moment. The biggest setback with this is that it does not come with installation direction. Your best bet is to invite a professional to do it for you. However, Acopower has robust customer service that should resolve any issues speedily.
- High conversion efficiency
- Charge controller is programmable for different battery types
- Up to 25-year warranty on panels
- Comes with all the accessories for RV mounting
- Missing installation guideline in package
- Polycrystalline panels are not as efficient as monocrystalline panels
Newpowa 25 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel – Best budget
For anyone on a slim budget, the best product is often what they can afford. Newpowa 25W monocrystalline solar panel cost less than $50 making it a great option for those in this category. Notwithstanding the low price, the manufacturers are standing behind their product with a 25-year transferrable power output warranty. The small nature of the panel allows you to use it in different ways.
With this solar panel, you have a variety of mounting options including a Z-bracket, tilt-adjustable bracket, and pole/wall installation. Despite its low wattage, this solar panel has diverse applications including RV, security system, camping, traffic signs, and so on. It makes use of the newest high-performance monocrystalline cells encapsulated in ethylene-vinyl-acetate (EVA) for maximum efficiency. This combines with the heavy-duty anodized frames for strong protection.
It comes with pre-installed bypass diodes inside a junction box for maximum power drops from shading. For a panel as small as this one, you need to keep your expectations low. If you have energy-intensive appliances in your RV or want to charge big batteries, this may not be a good choice. Although you can stack them up for more power, you may end up spending more compared to buying a single 100W panel.
- Highly affordable
- Up to 25-year transferrable power output warranty
- Versatile use due to small size
- Protected by heavy-duty anodized frames
- Price can shoot up if you try to scale up
- Not suitable for charging big batteries
SUNGOLDPOWER 200 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Module Kit – Best 200-watt solar panel kit
In terms of price and performance, Sungoldpower monocrystalline solar panel module kit is a product to beat. This kit comes with all the necessary accessories for mounting on your RV including 2x 100W monocrystalline solar panels, 20A LCD PWM charge controller, solar panel connector extension cables, and 2 sets of Z-Brackets for mounting. The panels come with pre-drilled holes for easier mounting.
Like most trusted manufacturers, Sungoldpower is offering a 25-year transferable power output warranty for the solar panel and a year on the rest of the kit components. The solar panels are waterproof (IP67 waterproof rating) meaning you can mount them on the roof of your RV. The aluminum frame of the panes are corrosion resistant, thereby offering maximum protection for your panels.
On the downside, the small capacity of the charge controller means that you cannot add more panels to your kit—except you change the controller. Also, the Pulse Wave Monitor (PWM) is not as efficient as the MPPT controller. You can choose the option of discarding the controller and getting a different one. However, that simply shoots up your budget. Some reviewers reported missing parts in their package too. Regardless of the flaws, this will be a resourceful addition to your RV.
- More affordable than competing brands
- Up to 25-year transferable power output warranty
- Sturdy design with IP67 waterproof rating
- Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame
- Charge controller is not the best
- Some packages come with missing parts
Buying Guide for the best RV solar panels
If you have read this far you probably already know that all solar panels are not the same in terms of dimension, technology, and wattage. Therefore, a solar panel meant for homes may not be ideal for RVs. Below are some of the features to pay attention to when shopping for the best RV solar panels.
Solar Panel Cell Type/ Efficiency
When it comes to efficiency, monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient. However, they are very expensive. Nevertheless, they can easily be fitted to the roof of your RV and trailer to give you the best possible charging. Although amorphous crystalline panels are not as efficient as mono and polycrystalline panels, they work well under high-temperature conditions.
The nature of the surface where you want to install your solar panels should guide you on the type of panel you should install. RVs and travel trailers usually have flat tops suitable for fixed panels. Consider mounting the panels on adjustable angles so that you can easily tilt them towards the sun. However, if you have an RV with a curved top or intend to place your panel in a curved area on your RV, consider buying a flexible solar panel.
The power of your solar panel should be such that it matches your battery capacity. For example, 400W solar panels will charge your battery faster than a 100W panel. Another way to determine the amount of power you need is to add the power requirement of all the electric gadgets in your RV. Then, pick a solar panel that will match that power.
Single Panels or Kits
If you want to set up a solar system for your RV for the first time, buying a solar system kit can save you a whole lot of money and stress. Solar kits come with all you need to get started. However, if you already have some of the components like the charge controller and cables, buying individual panels will be a better choice.
The portability of the solar panel is another factor to consider when making your choice. If you don’t want to deface the top of your RV with solar panels, you can choose a portable solar panel. Keep them in your trunk and bring them out only when they are needed.
How RV solar panels work
The working process of a solar system (Photo credit: RVshare)
The solar panels are made of layers of silicon-based semiconductors packed together. When the sun rays hit the panels, it sets off a series of reaction that leads to the generation of power. The power moves to the solar charge controller which regulates the flow of the power, then send the generated power to the battery. The solar charge controller prevents the battery from overcharging too.
Installation: how to install solar panels on RV
To install a solar panel on the roof of your RV, you will need mounting hardware. The process is pretty simple—if you know what you are doing. If done properly, it should not do a lot of damage to your roof. Some of the things you will need are;
- Z-Bracket mounts: they help to hold your solar panels directly on the roof or the roof rack rails. After drilling mounting holes, fill the holes with lap sealants before tightening them. Z-bracket mounts are if you are mounting the panel directly onto the roof of your RV.
- Adjusting tilt mount: firstly, you need to drill an adjustable tilt mount to the roof of your RV. Then, fasten your panels to the tilt mount. It helps you to adjust the panels to get maximum sun contact.
- Solar cable gland: these are small waterproof boxes through which the cables pass from the roof into the interior of your RV. They serve as a bridge between the roof and the interior.
- Lap sealants: they serve as waterproofing to prevent leaks from the roof into your car. Make sure you seal any drills on the roof properly.
How to increase the efficiency of your RV solar panel
The biggest challenge you will have with your solar panel is the weather. The higher the intensity of the sun, the more efficient your panels will be. However, you can help improve the efficiency of your solar panels by cleaning them often. Check and clean out snow and dust as both will greatly reduce the power of your panels.
For a rigid panel, you can increase the efficiency by mounting it on a tilt angle, thus allowing you to adjust the panel to face the sun directly. This can increase their efficiency by 25%. Make sure that your panel is strategically placed to prevent shadows from casting on them. Panels are designed such that once there is shade on one of the little squares, the entire row stops producing energy. So, if 10% of the squares are covered, it can reduce the energy production of your panel by 90%.
How to clean RV solar panel
Cleaning solar panels with spray jet or soft clothes (Photo credit: Evergreen Solar)
To clean your RV solar panels, simply spray them with water running through a hose. Alternatively, you can use a damp cloth to clean the surface. Avoid applying too much pressure while doing this.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What can RV solar panels run?
With 400 watts solar panel on a sunny day, you should be able to run all the devices in your RV. This includes a coffee maker, refrigerator, air conditioner, etc. However, you need to pair it with a least 2x 12V batteries and a 30A to 40A charge controller.
- Can RV solar panels run AC?
An RV solar panel can run an AC. However, the number of panels you will need to achieve this will depend on the power consumption of your air conditioning unit. Ideally, 4x 100W solar panels should be able to run your air conditioning unit effectively.
- What is the best size solar panel for a motorhome?
For a motor home with high energy demanding appliances, you will need solar panels of over 100W to run all your appliances effectively. The higher the number of solar panels, the more appliances you will be able to power.
- Are RV solar panels worth it?
RV solar panels are a great investment for several reasons. Firstly, they provide clean and noiseless energy unlike running gas generators. Also, they are cheaper to maintain.
With the best RV solar panels, you can go boondocking and immerse yourself in nature rather than huddling in designated RV parks. For longer RVs like travel trailers that make use of solar systems with batteries, having the right solar panels will help you to store enough power during the day so that you will have enough to use at night. Arguably the most interesting thing about a solar system is that you can start with a small setup and expand as your power need increases.